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KEEP AN EYE ON GOALIES

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones breaks down the Western Conference final between the Canucks and Sharks.

It's hard to get a good read on either team. Each nearly made history in these playoffs - and not in a good way. Each came close to joining the short list of NHL teams that lost a series after leading 3-0. The Canucks had a 3-0 lead in the first round against the Blackhawks and won Game 7 in overtime. The Sharks had a 3-0 lead against the Red Wings in the second round and advanced with a 3-2 victory Thursday in Game 7. Then again, both teams, known for recent playoff disappointments, showed plenty of guts surviving those series and coming up big in Game 7. One of the more interesting matchups is in goal, where San Jose's Antti Niemi goes against Roberto Luongo. Niemi was in goal for the Blackhawks last season, when Chicago swept Luongo and the Canucks in the second round. Niemi has won six playoff series in a row and could become the first goalie since Harry Holmes in 1916-17 to win back-to-back Cups with different teams. The biggest showdown could be between arguably the best two-way centers in hockey:

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San Jose's Joe Thornton and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. Both have been dominant in the playoffs, especially in the most critical games. Kesler led all playoff scorers entering Saturday with 15 points. Vancouver's two best players, the Sedin twins, have been ordinary in the playoffs. Regular-season points leader Daniel has six goals and four assists in 13 games but is minus-8. Regular-season assists leader Henrik has only one goal and eight assists and is also minus-8. The Canucks have allowed four or more power plays seven times in 13 postseason games, and that could be trouble against a Sharks team that is loaded with talent and whose power-play quarterback, former Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle,is heating up. Boyle had eight points in the Detroit series. Ryan Clowe leads the Sharks with 13 points, andLogan Couture and Devin Setoguchi are tied for the team goals lead with six. The Canucks are trying to reach their first Stanley Cup final since 1994. The Sharks are trying for their first since entering the league in 1991.

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Prediction: This series will be decided by how well Luongo plays. We think this is the year he gets over the top. Canucks in seven.

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